Posts in Gardening

DIY Chamomile Tea

June 23rd, 2015 Posted by DIY, Drinks, Gardening, Non-alchoholic No Comment yet

If you missed my post last week about the different flowers I have in my garden and some ideas of what to do with them, check it out! There is some amazing blooms out there and I really wanted to share them with you. But if you want a way to ease into the world of edible flowers, herbs and gardening, this is a great place to start!

chamomile tea from sugar pickles-5

Here, we have one of the classics. Chamomile. Chamomile is calming, peaceful and promotes contemplation and rest. Chamomile is super easy to grow (you can put it right in your garden bed, or in a container). I put it in the herb garden which is right outside the back door of our house. I love my little herb garden. I had no idea Chamomile grew tall and liked to flop over, so I added a tomato cage around it a few weeks after I planted it. I wish I had done this at the start, because trying to force unwieldily chamomile stems into a cage and breaking them, as well as bruising some flowers and leaves, isn’t exactly a graceful and um…”peaceful” task, but it was done and the plant seems to have bounced back just fine. In fact, just one plant gives me quite a bit of flowers, and I find myself drying a small batch about every week.

The process is easy. I learned about this from this blog out of the UK. You can read the original article here.

  1. Pick your flowers early in the day (anytime before noon is okay). This ensures that they will be fresh, perky and full of flavor. If the picking is done later in the day, the plant may be more tired, taxed or stressed from being in the heat all day. If your life is such that morning picking isn’t for you, then wait until evening or anytime the plant has some shade on it for an hour or two.
  2. Place all the flowers in a bowl of cool water to gently wash off any bugs, dirt, or spider webs. A note about washing: washing does not fully remove pesticides. If you are using pesticides in your yard, you should not spray pesticides on (or near!) herbs or things you plan to consume. I’ve found that a mixture of soap and water takes care of the aphids, and having a well-balanced eco-system in your yard (meaning plenty of bees, butterflies, dragon flies, lady bugs and spiders) helps combat other bugs that are likely to feast on your precious herbs. But I’m learning more about organic gardening everyday, so if you have any thoughts about this, please comment!
    chamomile tea from sugar pickles-10
  3. Let the flower buds soak in the cool water for a few minutes, then put them in a salad spinner to dry them, or put them in a single layer on paper towels until dry.
    chamomile tea from sugar pickles-11
  4. Preheat the oven (or a toaster oven, which is how I do my smaller batches) to 200 degrees (250 or 300 works better in the toaster oven, it doesn’t seem to run as warm as my full size oven).
  5. Put the flowers on a parchment lined baking sheet, trim off any stems that are a little longer then 1/2 inch.
    chamomile tea from sugar pickles-14
  6. Put the tray in the oven and turn the oven off, leaving the door propped open about 2 inches for a full size oven or 1 inch for a toaster oven.
  7. Let them dry in the oven for a couple of hours, about 3 and then check them. You can also heat the oven back up after a few hours (remove the flowers first!) and repeat until all the moisture is gone from the petals and they look dried. Mine took about 6 hours, or basically all day and I re-heated the oven twice. These ones I put back in: 
    chamomile tea from sugar pickles-18

When they are all dry they should look something like this: 

chamomile tea from sugar pickles-26

The center yellow part will still have some moisture, that’s okay. Store in a small jar, adding more dried chamomile as you make it.

To make a cup of tea, use 1 tablespoon of flowers per 8-10 oz cup. Boil some water, pour over the flowers and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain or remove the tea ball/sieve and then add honey or lemon as desired. I prefer it without any further adornment… it’s the best chamomile tea I’ve ever had and I don’t want to cover up the flavor.

chamomile tea from sugar pickles-27


The flowers that go unseen

June 19th, 2015 Posted by Gardening 3 comments

There are lovely things being turned into bouquets these days. With really innovative and special floral designers such as Ponderosa and Thyme, Sammy’s Flowers, and more, all kinds of cool and unique blossoms are showing up in bouquets. More innovative and and mysterious then the typical roses and carnations, these arrangements have brought the more fringe flowers to the forefront. 

But another group of flowers captures my attention, a group that often goes unseen and is unknown to many. The flowers of vegetables and fruits surprise, delight and intrigue me all through the growing season. 

Many people don’t see this, or even realize it’s happening, but it’s a process that is there, working hard to grow more produce. Just like those commercially cut flowers, like roses for example, vegetable and fruit flowers grow from seed, are pollinated, reproduce, and then die. 

The thing that is so intriguing about it, is that many of these flowers are really stunning, but they are practically never seen by most people. The best way to view them is to start a garden yourself and be surprised when your brussels sprout suddenly pops open a bright yellow flower, or your carrot creates large starbursts of green and white. 

Watching some of our garden friends create flowers and then fruit or vegetables, also helps me to understand the ways they are different from each other. 

Root vegetables make flowers, but the produce is growing underground, where as fruit trees, such as blueberries and cherries which are both in our yard, create their fruit where the flower once was, similar to peppers and tomatoes. Why? Does where the fruit is produced have to do with the type of vegetable growing? Is this why tomatoes are often called a fruit vs. a vegetable? 

While this article explains some things about fruits and vegetables, I know I have a lot more to learn. 

Back to the flowers. Some of my favorite flowers from fruits and vegetables so far are: 

Artichoke (taken 2012, at our old apartment. We had three artichoke plants in the front yard)


Lettuce: Photo taken 2014, during our first garden season at our rental house in Keizer) These flowers are so delicate. I think they would be amazing as filler in bouquets or small, sweet arrangements. Can you imagine the gorgeous salad topper they would make? 


Blueberry: First photo from WikiCommons (originally posted on Flickr by reviewer Kved, second photo of our plants after they were pollinated and began producing fruit). So most of us realize that fruit trees and bushes flower, but we don’t always get to see the particulars of the flower they make. We have blueberry and cherry in our yard, and blackberries lining our street, so the differences and nuances become really exciting to notice. I don’t think I’ve ever seen blueberry flowers end up in a wedding corsage either, though I think they would be quite sweet in one.


blueberry early fruit

Onion: Walla walla sweet onions. Note how similar the chive and onion flowers look… this is true of a lot of alliums. Want to grow your own? Check out this article, the top 16 Alliums for your garden

The onion flowers start with a small bulb and then the outer coating peels away gradually, to reveal a large puff ball of small white blossoms. They really are striking! I can imaging these in a tall, elegant arrangement. 

garden flowers-11 garden flowers-10 garden flowers-9 garden flowers-8

bee in the onion patch

Squash: Aww, my squash. These are pie pumpkins and acorn squash, but many squash flowers look similar. I have a love/hate relationship. I’m not growing squash this year because of the space they require and battling of a white powdery mildew. But I had some really great experiences with squash last year, and some philosophical moments (like most of my deep thinking garden thoughts, it involved bees).

_MG_7662 squash flower

Herbs: Herbs have flowers too! Below is our chamomile, which is commonly used for the flower, but other herbs, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, and chives, also below, have fabulous (and edible!) flowers. I am just waiting for the day when those talented florists can figure out how to incorporate rosemary flowers into their arrangements. Maybe you’ve seen that already? Let me know! 





lemon thyme flower

Borage is another one that is edible and I just started growing it (on purpose) this year. We had a borage plant at our old apartment, but it was there already and I had no idea what it was until a gardener friend told us. I used it to decorate cupcakes, which is perfectly lovely! But I’m experimenting with it in other uses; currently, borage vinegar for salads and marinades. 

Here it is, just producing some buds: 

borage starting to flower

Here are the borage flowers: 

garden flowers-2 borage flowers

Makes for a lovely cupcake decoration (photos below by Alexandra Grace Photography):

darlene_foodblog-9563-2147872868-O darlene_foodblog-9630-2147856372-O

Collard greens: This photo is from my instagram, where one of these little buds was hidden inside a collard green bundle. Such a nice surprise! 

collard green flower collard green flower

Tomatillo: An exotic looking surprise! This is our first year growing tomatillos and they are beautiful. 

tomatillo flower

Carrot: I think this is the one that is the most astonishing to us! We left a couple of our carrots to over winter and they made flowers this spring. The carrots will not be good to eat anymore, as all the energy and sweetness is going to produce the flower and seeds right now, but the flowers are about 8 feet tall and huge! I could see a spectacular carrot cake being decorated with these, the smell is earthy and slightly sweet (much like that of a carrot, go figure!). These are edible too, but don’t go looking for them in the wild-apparently they are often confused with fatal Hemlock flowers. 

carrot flower

I hope this has inspired you to plant a garden, or visit one and see what’s in bloom! 

Oven-roasted Roma Tomatoes

September 11th, 2014 Posted by Gardening, Vegetables 1 comment

Summer seems so FULL. Full of sun, full of parties and friends, vacations, and so full of luscious produce. I want to eat it all. Sometime in the middle of summer, I start to get panicky when I visit the farmers market or a particularly good grocery store. I just can seem to get every good thing in my basket!

green tomatoes

The same thing happens when I visit the garden. Suddenly the excitement of seeing the first green tomatoes sprouting from the vine grows from pride at the large harvest to a heavier sense of duty. A trip in the cool morning out to see the “sprouties” as we call them, leaves this mantra ringing in my ears: “I must do something with all of these tomatoes, I can’t let any of them go to waste.”

Perhaps you have had the same experience. Your to-do list for that day, be it many things or absolutely nothing, has now been altered to include a vague: “process tomatoes.” This could be anything! Puree? Can (groan)? Freeze? Nah. Freezing alone wouldn’t do them justice. Roasting. That feels easy.

Roasting tomatoes brings out their natural sugars and concentrates their flavor. You could even roast bland winter or early spring tomatoes and have a delicious result. I love to roast cherry tomatoes and watch the pockets of juice burst and then crisp around the edges.

Roasted tomatoes make the most wonderful simple pasta, with al dente penne or bow ties, and a few dollops of whole-milk ricotta or shaves of aged Parmesan. Roasted tomatoes are a welcome acid element in a roasted root vegetable salad of carrot, parsnip and onion, tossed very lightly with parsley, paprika, or harissa, depending on how cool it is outside.

To roast, wash all the tomatoes. You can roast any amount at one time. I prefer to do two large baking sheets full, because that is the most I can get into my oven at once.

Core the tomatoes, or cut a little off each end. Then quarter each tomato and if the seeds and juice want to come out, let them, into a separate bowl. Place only the tomato flesh on the baking sheet. An exception to this is the Roma. My Romas from the garden wanted to hold on their seeds in a very stubborn way, so I left them together.

 On the baking sheet, everyone should have a little bit of their own space. If the sheet is too full, you’ll have steamed tomatoes, which aren’t bad, but they aren’t really that good either. You want the tomatoes to have room to get a little crispy on the edges.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a little pepper and salt. I’m a firm believer that anything I roast gets a little pepper and salt, and that somehow it helps in the transformation of deliciousness, but you can leave this off if you are watching your salt intake.

roasted roma tomatoes

Then roast, at 425 degrees F, for about 40 minutes. Halfway through the baking time, check on the tomatoes. Rotate the pans, so that the tomatoes that were at the back of the oven are now in the front, and switch the pans from top to bottom, so that each baking sheet gets a turn being on top.

 After about 30 minutes of roasting, you will smell this good idea, and the panic you may have felt in that cool morning will be calmed. It will be completely forgotten long before you start enjoying the fruits of my summer garden labor during a cold winter night, diving into that steaming bowl of pasta.

When the tomatoes are done roasting, they will look smaller, wrinkled and slightly brown around the edges. Let them cool, and slip the large jewels into a small freezer bag, in a single layer if possible. Layer tomato filled bags on a small baking sheet or in a casserole and place them in your freezer like this, so they stay in a somewhat stackable shape. This is helpful if you’re like me with a lot of odds and ends in your freezer, and even if that’s not the case, it’s still a sensible thing to do.

roasted roma tomatoes

When you are ready to use them, thaw the whole small bag, or partially thaw and then open up the bag and break or chop off chunks of roasted tomatoes, returning the rest to the freezer for another days use.

Oven-roasted Roma Tomatoes
Recipe Type: Vegetable
Author: Sugar Pickles
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 3-4 cups
  • 10-20 Roma tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Equipment:
  • 2 large baking sheets
  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Wash and core each tomato, or cut off each end, whichever is easiest for you. Cut each tomato into quarters. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Roast, rotating and switching the pans halfway through, for about 40 minutes. Use some immediately, or let cool and freeze in quart size freezer bags in a single layer. Stack freezer bags in a casserole dish or on a backing sheet and let freeze flat, for at least 2 hours or over night. Remove baking sheet once the tomatoes are frozen. Tomatoes will last in the freezer up to a year.



The Secret Joys of Gardening

August 17th, 2014 Posted by Gardening 1 comment



Since having a garden, my eyes slowly opened to a new world that I didn’t think much about before. For instance, this morning I was out watering my squash plants. Their bright yellow flowers have been beckoning to be crawled into, eaten, and pollinated but I rarely see a bee. With my unsuccessful attempt at growing squash in the past, this was troubling me. I suddenly spied a bee and bent down to look closer. She was so heavy with pollen on her head and all her legs that she couldn’t fly straight and appeared to be shaking a small excess off of her hind legs to enable her to fly home.

squash flower

Observation of this made my eyes well up. There was this bee, with all her troubles, afflictions of our modern world, and her simple life, and the thing that drives her very being is to find pollen and return home. But she does more than that inadvertently. She feeds us. Something right there, standing in the squash patch, took hold of my thoughts and said, “That bee is the noblest creature on this earth.”

She pollinates, she makes honey, and that is all she has want to do.


It humbled me. I am just a person, I go to work, I drive my car, I throw away my garbage. I think my actions are big because they are seen; they are large and loud. But in the bees small ways, she creates life, and as if that weren’t enough, she makes a sweet sticky honey, with all its magical properties.

I began to realize how much of my life is dependent on tiny creatures who I barely notice.


Since starting this garden, my eyes have opened up to things going on unseen: The successes, the battles, the joy and the sex that happens at a miniature level is revealed and feels larger than my own life. It’s like nature saying, “I’ve got an eye on the whole dang thing, you’re in it, but you’re not IT.” Whoa. That’s a lesson that hit me right between the eyes. 



image source:


Super Green Arugula Pesto

August 5th, 2014 Posted by Gardening, Sauces, Snacks 1 comment

I am winning at gardening. I used to think I had a very black thumb. But what do you know? I’m actually making things come out of the ground that aren’t dead after a week. I guess the key is consistent watering (duh, Darlene). And just trial and error. If you are thinking about starting a garden, my advice is set yourself up with an easy win right from the beginning. This will give you the strength you need to continue in this strange new plant world. 


Arugula. Super easy to grow, and very prolific. This year, the arugula was the first thing to come and it didn’t stop. It’s now found it’s way in to our meals from breakfast (arugula cheese english muffin sandwiches) to dinner with this arugula pesto. It also makes a great snack with some crackers or crusty bread (is this heaven?). Did you know that in Britain they call arugula “rocket”? (Confession: sometimes I say that word over and over again in a british accent while I’m making this.) Garden grown arugula is so tender, yet amazingly sharp. It’s different from store bought, but then, isn’t everything home grown different? 


Here’s the thing about pesto. It took me awhile to master it. It should be easy right? After all, the food processor does all the work. But the thing is, pesto has to be a good balance between the salt, the nuts, the cheese and the herbs. If you add too much oil, these flavors are dulled.

Pesto, when finished, is that lovely bright green color that can sometimes fade too quickly to almost brown-black due to the oxidation of the delicate basil. I tried pouring a “protective” layer of olive oil over the surface of the pesto before storing in the fridge, but it didn’t seem to work and just made my pesto too oily.

From trial and error, I have developed a few tricks to keep my pesto from browning.

(One built-in bonus with using arugula: the blackening never happens. You can make this a week ahead of time and serve it like you totally got this summer entertaining thing down. No one will ever know, and it will undoubtedly be delicious.)

Toast with arugula and sliced cherry tomatoes is a great anytime snack:


Tips for making super green pesto: (applies to both arugula and basil pesto)

1. Use pistachios. They are green already, and so good! Joel got me hooked on using pistachios for pesto years ago, and I love this little twist. No reason pine nuts should have all the pesto fun.


2. Blend the hard stuff first (nuts, cheese, lemon zest) so that when you add the more delicate basil or arugula it will bruise less and be easier to blend.

_MG_7424 _MG_7430

3. Use a good amount of lemon juice. The acid will prevent oxidation.

arugula pesto mostly blended arugula pesto blended

This is exactly what you love about pesto: herby, garlicky, a little rich from the parmesan cheese, and thanks to our friendly garden lettuce, arugula, supremely peppery. 

arugula pesto-01

Super Green Arugula Pesto
Makes about 1 cup


2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly sliced

3/4 cup finely grated or chopped parmesan

1/3 cup shelled pistachios, roasted and salted or raw

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 cups packed arugula

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


In the bowl of a food processor, add garlic slices, parmesan, and pistachios. Pulse about 6-10 times, until the nuts are in small pieces and the cheese and garlic is minced. Add the lemon zest and pulse 2 more times. 

Pile the arugula into the food processor and squeeze the lemon juice over it. 

Pulse a few times until the arugula is broken down and chopped small. 

With the machine running now, pour the olive oil in a thin stream through the feeding tube of the food processor. Let it process for about 1 minute total time, adjusting to add more or less olive oil for your desired consistency. 

Taste, adjust the salt and pepper, or possibly add more arugula if the flavors are too muted by the oil. 

Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.  Try it on bread, crackers, stirred into pasta or smeared all over chicken.  

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